3 ways to cut health care costs as a retiree

Don't let your spending get out of control

As a retiree, chances are good that medical care is going to be one of the single biggest expenses you face. In fact, recent research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that a senior couple with high prescription drug needs could spend an estimated $325,000 in Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket costs not covered by insurance.

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Saving that much is difficult, and if you're already in retirement, spending that substantial a sum may be unimaginable. But the good news is that you can take some steps to keep expenses to a minimum. Here are three techniques to try to keep costs down.

1. Shop carefully for your Medicare Plan

Original Medicare (Parts A and B) probably won't provide as much coverage as you expect. But you don't have to just accept this as your only policy option.

In fact, during Medicare open enrollment, you could shop for a Medicare Advantage Plan that serves as an alternative and potentially provides more coverage. Or you could opt for a Medigap policy as a supplement to original Medicare that reduces out-of-pocket expenses.

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Some Medicare Advantage Plans charge higher monthly premiums than you'd pay for Part B (which covers outpatient care if you have traditional Medicare). But the Advantage plans may include prescription drugs, have lower coinsurance costs, or provide coverage for things Part B doesn't pay for, such as dental services, eye care, and hearing aids.

Don't assume monthly premiums are the only things that matter. Instead, look carefully at which plan will keep total out-of-pocket expenses as low as possible.

2. Get preventative care to stay as healthy as possible

It's a fact of life that you're likely to experience more health problems, and more serious health problems, as you get older. But one of the best ways to maintain your health is to see the doctor regularly and get routine screenings for serious diseases to catch them early.

Preventative care usually comes at a far lower cost than treating illness. And if you're able to stay healthy longer, you'll have a better quality of life, as well as more money in the bank.

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3. Consider long-term care insurance

EBRI's frightening estimates for the costs of medical care in retirement don't even take into account one of the single biggest expenses -- long-term care.

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If you need help with routine activities of daily living, Medicare will provide no coverage at all for either nursing home care or home health services. You're on your own for paying these expenses, which could top $100,000 a year. With as many as 70% of seniors 65 and over requiring custodial care at some point in their lifetimes, you must have a plan for how you'll pay for it.

Long-term care insurance is one option, so look into policies to see both how much premiums would be and what each covers. You may just find that buying this insurance preserves your nest egg. This can be especially important for married couples, as you don't want to drain your retirement accounts to care for one spouse who gets sick and leave the other with little to live on.

If you have insurance to cover long-term care in case of serious ailments, you get regular preventative care to stave off these health issues as long as possible, and you have the right Medicare coverage, hopefully your health care expenses as a retiree will come in far lower than average.

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